Longtime SAP partner Acsis has launched RFID Quickstart, the latest in a string of products that technology vendors are rolling out to help large product manufacturers meet encroaching RFID mandates.
In an interview, Acsis executive vice president Steve Brown said many of the companys customers are Fortune 1000 consumer goods and pharmaceutical companies trying to beat Wal-Marts January 2005 deadline for initial RFID compliance.
“These companies are at various stages at this point. Some are fairly well along, but others arent,” Brown said.
RFID Quickstart is a bundle that brings together a reader station and smart label printer with other components, including software from Acsis, a Marlon, N.J.-based vendor that began supplying SAP with bar-code technology back in 1999.
The new software is designed for managing RFID (radio frequency identification) devices as well as for sending RFID information to back-end SAP systems, Brown said. Late last year, Acsis announced RFID alliances with both printer maker Zebra Technologies and reader and tag manufacturer Alien Technology.
Zebra in July unveiled a product billed as the first XML-enabled RFID printer-encoder for high-volume global suppliers.
Also this week, Alien announced the start of volume production using second-generation tag-manufacturing technology, geared toward producing higher quality at lower costs.
Brown contended that RF tag reliability—still a big issue in RFID—has been improving dramatically, particularly over the past three months. “We expect to see more improvements, as manufacturers come in with process experience. Still, though, the tags arent going to work with certain substrates right now,” he said.
To install RFID Quickstart, customers typically will need to use implementation services from either Acsis or outside systems integrators, according to Brown.
Acsis RFID Quickstart is not to be confused with RFID Quickstart Solution, a product bundle from Inspectech, a company recently named Alabamas “Manufacturer of the Year.” Acsis and Inspectech are both members of epcGlobal.
Inspectechs bundle combines a Zebra printer with smart code labels and software for interfacing with back-end ERP (enterprise resource planning) systems.
Inspectech manufactures its own smart code labels, said Mark Freeman, the companys president. “We dont care what ERP system youre running,” he added.
Yet lots of customers are frustrated by looming Wal-Mart and DoD RFID deadlines, and so are some RFID manufacturers, according to Freeman.
“The customers are progressing nicely, if you know what I mean, but theyre kicking and screaming all the way,” he quipped.
“[RFID] manufacturers dont want to make a huge investment in class 0 and 1, because these will soon be replaced by class 2, anyway. Class 2 is when the big guys will come in and make their money.”
In May of this year, Manhattan Associates brought out a different bundle, known as RFID in a Box. The offering combines Manhattan Associates RFID-enabled supply-chain applications, based on the Microsoft .NET framework, with Windows CE-enabled reader hardware from Alien Technology. Manhattan Associates provides implementation services, too.
As some analysts see it, RFID ultimately will rest on process integration, together with product and service bundling.
“Widescale adoption of RFID requires bundled products and services that combine software, hardware and the tags themselves with implementation tools and methodologies that reduce time and risk,” John Fontanella, an AMR analyst, said in a recent report from AMR Research.
“Compliance will not be the end goal. The litmus test for such a package is the foundation that it builds for the future evolution of RFID-based processes, as well as the value it creates.”